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Ohio kidnappings: Man charged with rape and kidnap

Ariel Castro appears in Cleveland Municipal court. Picture: AP

Ariel Castro appears in Cleveland Municipal court. Picture: AP

  • by MARGARET NEIGHBOUR
 

A MAN has appeared in court on charges of rape and kidnapping, days after three women missing for about a decade in America were found alive at his home.

• Bail set at $8 million

• A suicide note written by Ariel Castro alleges victims were at fault for kidnappings

• Cites sex addiction, family problems and poor childhood in confession

• Castro, 52, charged with rape and kidnapping of three women who were missing for more than 10 years

Ariel Castro looked down at the ground while lawyers in Cleveland, Ohio, spoke to the judge yesterday. Bail was set at $2 million (£1.29 million) on each case.

Police said they have spoken to both Castro, who is a former school bus driver, and the three women at length in building their case.

Officers believe that the women were kept inside Castro’s house for all but a few brief minutes over the past ten years.

The three women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, and were found on Monday after one of them screamed for help to escape and contacted police.

Castro bit his collar and signed documents with his handcuffed hands during yesterday’s hearing. He did not speak.

It has emerged that the women found alive after a decade in captivity endured lonely, dark lives inside a dingy home where they were raped and allowed outside only a handful of times in disguises while walking to a garage steps away, investigators said.

The 52-year-old former school bus driver has emerged as the lone suspect.

While many questions remain about how Castro maintained such tight control over the women for so many years, the horrors they suffered are beginning to come to light.

Police have said the women were apparently bound by ropes and chains at times and were kept in different rooms.

They suffered prolonged sexual and psychological abuse and had miscarriages, according to a city official briefed on the case.

Castro has been charged with four counts of kidnapping – covering the captives and the daughter born to one of them – and three counts of rape, against all three women.

The women and Castro have given lengthy statements to police that have helped build the case, said deputy police chief Ed Tomba.

None of the women gave them any indication that Castro’s two older brothers, who have been in custody since Monday, were involved. Prosecutors brought no charges against the brothers, citing a lack of evidence. “Ariel kept everyone at a distance,” Mr Tomba said. “As far as the circumstances inside the home and the control he may have had over those girls … I think that’s going to take us a long time to figure that out.”

The women are now in their 20s and 30s, and were 14, 16 and 20 when they vanished.

City councillor Brian Cummins said: “We know the victims have confirmed miscarriages, but with who, how many and what conditions we don’t know. It sounds pretty gruesome.”

They never saw a chance to escape over the past ten years until this week when Amanda Berry broke through a door and ran to freedom, alerting police who rescued the other women while Castro was away from the house.

In newly released police audio tapes, an emergency despatcher notifies officers on Monday that she has just spoken to a woman who “says her name is Amanda Berry and that she had been kidnapped ten years ago”.

An officer on the recorded call says: “This might be for real.” After police arrive at the house, women can be heard crying in the background. Then an officer tells the dispatcher: “We found ’em. We found ’em.”

Mr Tomba said of Miss Berry: “Something must have clicked and she saw an opportunity and took that opportunity.”

He said the women could remember being outside only twice during their entire time in captivity. “We were told they left the house and went into the garage in disguise,” he said.

Also in the house was Miss Berry’s six-year-old daughter. A paternity test on Castro is being carried out to establish whether he fathered the child.

While prosecutors announced charges against Castro, federal agents searched a vacant house near where the women had been held. Officials would only say their search was an attempt to glean evidence in the case against Castro.

Miss Berry, 27, and Gina DeJesus, who is in her early 20s, were welcomed home on Wednesday by jubilant crowds of loved ones and neighbours with balloons and banners. Family members hustled them inside, past hundreds of reporters and onlookers. Neither woman spoke.

“This is the best Mother’s Day I could ever have,” said Nancy Ruiz, Gina’s mother. She said she hugged her daughter and did not want to let go. “There’s no word to describe the beauty of just seeing them,” she said.

The third captive, Michelle Knight, 32, was reported to be in good condition at a medical centre yesterday.

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